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Portis eager to leave last season behind

ASHBURN, Va. -- Clinton Portis' unique personality remains very much intact, and his off-the-cuff humor is still good for at least two laugh-out-loud moments in every interview.

Yet the running back who reported for the first day of Washington Redskins training camp Friday was clearly dealing with the sting of a year gone bad. As if a season ruined by injuries wasn't enough, Portis found himself vilified during the offseason after he made light of the dogfighting investigation involving Michael Vick.

"I'm going to mind my own business," Portis said. "I'm going to keep Clinton Portis out of trouble. I'm going to keep Clinton Portis focused. I'm going to keep Clinton Portis on top of his game. On top of that, you can't ask me about the next man. I don't know how nobody feels. I don't know what nobody's thinking. The only thing I know is what's going on in Clinton Portis' life."

In a wide-ranging session with reporters, Portis said he became complacent last year because of football burnout, that he's settled his differences with assistant coach Al Saunders, that he's happy to share at least some of the rushing load with Ladell Betts, that he still doesn't want to play in preseason games, and that he's looking forward to retirement in five or six years, when, as he put it: "I can do whatever I want, say whatever I want."

Most importantly, Portis is anxious to rebound from his worst season as a pro. He ran for only 523 yards last year, the first time he failed to reach 1,300. He missed nine games in the 5-11 season because of two shoulder injuries and a broken hand, and he sat out some of this year's offseason workouts because of tendinitis in his knee.

"It's always 'What have you done for me lately?' And lately I haven't done anything," Portis said. "Right now I'm eager to get back to elite status and continue to play with the chip on my shoulder and realize it's only a matter of time before you fall. And my next fall, I want it to be when I sit on this podium and announce my retirement."

Portis was on the verge of becoming the face of the franchise a year ago. His comments were as colorful as the costumes he wore once a week during the 2005 playoff run. But last season went kaput in the first quarter of the first exhibition game when he was hurt his shoulder making a tackle.

The injury gave fuel to Portis' claims that preseason and training camp are too long, so naturally he's not thrilled that this year's camp will be longer and more physical. Coach Gibbs and many players feel that the Redskins slow start a year ago was caused by a casual attitude toward preseason, but Portis begs to differ: He said the season was spoiled by preseason injuries to players such as himself and Shawn Springs.

"My idea of improving training camp is turning this into a resort," Portis said, only half-joking. "And that means going into the season healthy. The more guys you have going into a season healthy, the better chance you have. But coach Gibbs' idea is totally different from mine."

Portis also said Gibbs' demand that players spend much of the offseason at Redskins Park got him tired of football last year, a policy Gibbs changed this year.

"The excitement, the attitude wasn't there," Portis said. Likewise, Portis wasn't always on the same page with Saunders, who expressed disappointment when Portis would unexpectedly take a rest during a series.

"We talked. We settled our differences," Portis said. "I've just got to buy into his system. If he says 'Clinton, I need you to run through this brick wall,' I've got to get as close as I can and dive over the top of this brick wall and say 'I did it."'

Asked about making more room for Betts, who ran for 1,000 yards last year and was rewarded with a five-year contract, Portis said he and his backup have been peacefully coexisting for two years.

"If he sees something in the defense that he's able to take advantage of and I can't, put Ladell in the game," Portis said. "I don't care. I don't mind. But at the same time, Clinton Portis is going to be Clinton Portis and I'm going to get my carries, I'm going to get my yards, I'm going to get my touchdowns. Whoever the hot man is, it's only right that Coach stick with the hot man."

Last month, Portis felt the wrath of animal rights activists when he joked about dogfighting when asked about Atlanta Falcons quarterback Vick. Portis later said he shouldn't have made the comments, but on Friday he said he still felt as if he had been "getting bashed for something I had nothing to do with."

"I'm weak from battling for everyone else," Portis said. "I've got to battle for myself."

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